Can Poll Workers Halt Maskless People from Voting?

Rob Schilling, conservative talk show host on WINA. Photo credit: The Schilling Show

by James A. Bacon

On June 8, Rob Schilling walked into the Woodbrook precinct of Albemarle County to cast a vote in the Democratic Party primary. A talk show host on WINA radio, he was well-known locally as a conservative — there aren’t many in the area, so he stands out — but under Virginia law he has the right to vote in any primary he chooses. More problematic, he wasn’t wearing a mask.

Local poll worker Leo Mallek, who was wearing a blue surgical mask, stopped Schilling in the corridor leading to the room with the voting machines and told him to cover his face. Schilling refused and tried to enter the room to vote. One poll worker attempted to physically block him and grabbed his arm; another touched his shoulder to guide him out of the voting area. After a dispute lasting roughly four minutes, Schilling was allowed to vote.

On June 21, he filed a lawsuit against the poll workers and Albemarle County Registrar Jake Washburn alleging assault, battery and the violation of his voting rights. “What happened to me was beyond atrocious,” said Schilling in a press release. “Albemarle County voters should never face intimidation, harassment, and physical assault by elections officials when attempting to cast a ballot. These egregious violations of my rights, all captured on video, must be legally rectified.”

Initially, I hesitated to write about the incident. At the end of the day, Schilling was allowed to vote without a mask, and the hassle caused by the poll workers detained him all of four minutes. I’ve spent longer waiting for poll workers to check my voter ID. But in the end I decided Schilling’s experience was worth writing about. The General Assembly has enacted a slew of new voting laws, effective July 1, on the premise that Virginia’s voting rules “suppress” voting. New laws include making it easier for people to vote by absentee ballot, letting people vote early in person, providing curbside voting for people with disabilities, and banning the carrying of firearms within 40 feet of a polling place.

How is it not also “voter suppression” if poll workers hassle people who tried to vote without a mask?

Schilling says his was not an isolated incident. He has been been contacted by at least four other individuals who recounted similar difficulties. You can access a copy of the lawsuit and a video recording of the incident on his website.

On May 29, 2020, Governor Ralph Northam issued the so-called “mask mandate.” The executive order included numerous exceptions, including for medical conditions. The order prohibited people from being required to provide proof of a medical condition in order to obtain the mask exemption.

Almost one year later, May 1, 2021,  Northam ended the mask mandate for vaccinated individuals, changing the requirement to wear a mask in public places to a mere recommendation.

Prior to election day, Schilling says, he wrote Washburne, the county registrar, who confirmed that masks were not required in order to vote in Albemarle County.

On election day, Schilling entered the Woodmark precinct, where he was met by Mallek, the Chief Officer of Election. Mallek told Schilling he had to wear a mask.

“I’m not wearing  a mask,” Schilling replied. “I’m here to vote today, and I’m not wearing a mask. I have an exemption from the governor.”

Mallek started speaking, then Schilling said, “I’m going to record you, and I’m going to play it back for people who make the policy.” (The recording can be viewed here.)

Leo Mallek, temporarily maskless. Image from Schilling video..

The camera veered away briefly, and Mallek either dropped his mask to expose his nose and mouth, or the mask fell unintentionally.

A poll worker told Schilling he had the option of voting outside. Schilling replied, “You can’t block me from voting. Take your hands off me. Call the police.”

When Schilling attempted to walk around a poll worker, identified as John Doe #1, the poll worker “stepped in front of Mr. Schilling while he was in motion, causing bodily contact. John Doe #1 then grabbed Mr. Schilling’s arm and/or shoulder.”

Schilling exclaimed, “You cannot block me from voting! Take your hands off me.”

When he entered the voting area, someone told Schilling, “Sir, this is not our policy. This is the school policy.”

“I’m not going outside,” Schilling said. “You can’t tell me I can’t vote. … I don’t want to vote outside. I want to vote right here.”

Another poll worker, identified as John Doe #2, put his hand on Schilling’s shoulder and told him, “Come with me. We’re going outside.” Schilling did not comply, and the individual did not press the matter.

Someone told Schilling he could “vote outside.” He replied, “You can’t tell me I can’t vote. … I don’t want to vote outside. I want to vote right here.”

A couple of minutes passed as a poll worker tried to reach Washburne on the phone. The registrar confirmed that Schilling was indeed allowed to vote. Schilling asked to sign a voter confirmation statement. After that, he proceeded to vote normally. He thanked the poll workers and left.

The video recording shows nothing resembling physical coercion in the encounter. But the lawsuit interpreted the physical contact ominously:

The willingness of Defendant Mallek, John Doe #1, and John Doe #2 to make close bodily contact with Mr. Schilling in a purported and/or ostensible effort to ensure safety of Mr. Schilling and others from a viral disease underscores and gives rise to the inference that the true purpose of the defendants was not to protect the Woodbrook Precinct and its visitors from an outbreak, but was instead to intimidate Mr. Schilling in the exercise of his franchise on the day of the Democratic Party’s primary election.

Bacons’ bottom line:

I’ll be honest, this is thin gruel if you’re looking for a dramatic instance of voter suppression. Voter hassling might be a fair term. It is also clear that Schilling, by videotaping the encounter, came prepared for a confrontation. Still, Schilling has the following facts in his favor.

  • Northam’s executive order did end the mask mandate for vaccinated people. (The lawsuit did not reveal whether Schilling was vaccinated or not.)
  • Schilling did check with the registrar to confirm that he could vote without wearing a mask.
  • A poll worker did confirm Schilling’s assertion in a phone call to the registrar.

On the other hand, Albemarle County made provisions for unmasked people to vote outside. Rather than follow the path of least resistance — he wanted to slide his ballot into the machine himself to ensure that it was counted, he told Bacon’s Rebellion — Schilling persisted in his determination to vote indoors. Clearly, his actions were designed to make a political point. But, then, there’s no law against that. Voter “suppression,” one might conclude, is in the eye of the beholder.

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25 responses to “Can Poll Workers Halt Maskless People from Voting?”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” These egregious violations of my rights, all captured on video,”

    uh huh. How many folks go to vote with video rolling and why would they?

    Poll workers are volunteers as Steve will verify. When I did that gig, “training” was not exactly regimented and formal – the precinct “Captains” were in charge and knew the rules – like what to do if someone shows up with a weapon who is not law enforcement.

    Hands on people is a no no I would think.

    I’ve also seen deputies standing by at various times.

    but can you actually vote without being given a ballot?

    Isn’t that all they really had to do, just refuse to hand him a ballot and possibly call 911 ( and I suspect the bigger the ruckus the better for his purposes).

    So did this guy “plan” this from the get go?

    Steve says: ” .Politics has destroyed common sense right and left.”

    no… these days, this kind of acting up is coming primarily from the right.

    Like in this case, how many “libs” would do this kind of thing in a precinct or other venues like retail shops and airliners, BOS meetings and such?

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      None so blind as those who will not see, Larry. You and Shilling are two sides of the same coin.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Not a coin. Bad analogy. You could go with opposite ends of the same tube, in which case Larry is a pleasant smile.

      2. LarrytheG Avatar

        My bet is if I came to your precinct and he came to your precinct, even you might detect a difference! 😉

      3. LarrytheG Avatar

        You can and do say that but I’d never ever be the CLOD this fool is, really for any reason. If I have a problem I will bring it up with the leader and if he/she does not resolve it, I go up the food chain.

        Precincts are staffed by basic minimally-trained volunteers and this guy sallies forth to impose himself on them and precipitates an incorrect response on the part of the volunteers.

        “two sides of a coin” from you is what I expect from you though… on partisan issues.

        I don’t care if this jerk is left or right – it’s the behavior that is wrong and he simply does not care… more like him seems to be what we are getting now days… good you can look to others not doing it for your views.

    2. WayneS Avatar

      I notice you carefully avoided naming locations or venues where “voters rights” protesters have recently been engaging in various shenanigans.

      Perhaps you should consider that the next time you’re thinking about accusing someone else of “cherry-picking” stories/cases/incidents when offering their arguments.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        How do you know what I “avoided”? Are you clairvoyant or something or just stupidly arrogant?

        Maybe what you should “avoid” is presuming things you don’t know shit about and show it?

        In terms of raising hell at a precinct, I don’t care if you are left or right – it’s the wrong place and time to do it.

    3. WayneS Avatar

      “So did this guy “plan” this from the get go?”

      Obviously he planned it from the get-go. However, the fact remains that if the poll worker(s) had not tried to stop the guy from voting because he was not wearing a mask he would almost certainly have simply voted and vacated the premises, his “thunder” stolen by the reasonable behavior of his intended target(s).

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        As I said before – you have volunteers at the precinct that do that work once or twice a year with minimal training.

        It’s the nature of volunteer work.

        Then you have a clod show up, video-rolling with intent to cause a ruckus, it may well be a challenge for many volunteers to know how to respond.

        The hands-on was wrong, but it was provoked and precipitated by this clod (and his party affiliation was nothing to do with it). I doubt seriously that the poll workers actually knew it at the point he was causing trouble.

  2. emjak Avatar

    It’s fascinating — in a gallows humor way — how people react differently to provocative political theater, staged confrontations, and premeditated video recording based on their political or ideological viewpoints.

  3. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    “Schilling was allowed to vote.”
    Snot momentarily gets comeuppance. Problem?

    So someone didn’t get the word. Hardly earth shattering.

    In the 1990s while returning from a vacation abroad, our flight reached customs about 3 minutes before a flight from Columbia resulting in long lines to passport checks.

    People were quietly shuffling along when a woman on the Columbian flight, pulling her Gucci dragalong walked up to a guard and loudly announced, “I have a diplomatic passport! I am going to the front of this line!”

    The guard said loudly, “It’s okay with me Lady if everybody else agrees.”

    The man next to the guard stepped into the woman’s path and said, “It’s not okay with me. Welcome to America.”

    When I reached the guard, I asked if she should’ve been allowed to the front, and he acknowledged that yes, that is a perk of a diplomatic passport, but her attitude pissed him off.

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      Our instructions for Henrico were the voters could not be turned away for not wearing a mask, and it never came up either way. Pretty sure that came down from the state. As poll WORKERS we were told to stay masked when inside the school, per school policy. We did when we thought somebody might be looking….but it was a very quiet day.

      People in our case were in and out of the polls in a couple of minutes, maybe one minute. A raging case of COVID with a patient sneezing wouldn’t have had time to spread….Politics has destroyed common sense right and left.

      1. Matt Adams Avatar
        Matt Adams

        Mr. Schilling knew exactly what he was doing and they played right into his hand.

      2. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        In a perfect world…

      3. LarrytheG Avatar

        no. not really. We have always had clods and “Karens” in this world who impose themselves on others – “me me me” but now some of them have decided to use political causes as their excuse.

        Most of us don’t do this, never did, know that we need to keep things civil – but as I said “most”, not all.

        All they really had to do was refuse him a ballot not physically handle him – that was wrong – but again most of the volunteers at precincts have minimal training – I do not recall receiving a sheet with a list of “don’t” on it. Everything went to the precinct Chief including the few folks who showed up that were not on our pollbooks and a couple got rowdy.

        The reason I quit doing that work was a lack of sufficient training ( like how to properly set up the machine for the blind) – and a general lack of structure and organization – no designated roles especially on setting up at O dark thirty in the morn when it’s important to get set up in time to open. Our “chief” was not good and the election people knew it and refused to act.

        Operating the precincts is serious business IMHO and the breaking point was when we had our annual training and one of the commissioners got up and showed us slides of his show cars…. while the election officials stood by and watched. That was it.

  4. Matt Adams Avatar
    Matt Adams

    He proved his own intentions (good, bad or indifferent to them), however the poll workers placed themselves in a situation which they will not win legally.

  5. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Obviously, there was a failure of communication with the poll workers. When I went to vote in the primary, I did not take a mask because I had been vaccinated and the rules had been loosened for vaccinated folks. As I neared the school, however, I had some doubts and asked the poll worker at the door if I needed a mask. She said that I didn’t, and that was that.

    If the poll worker honestly though that voters were supposed to wear masks, what was he supposed to do when Schilling tried to force his way in? Yes denying him a ballot was one alternative, but, that point, he would have been in the building, unmasked. If this guy had not been such a jerk, or not seeking confrontation, he would have said, “Look, please check with the registrar. He told me that I didn’t have to have a mask.”

    Someone showing up without a valid ID, or with a valid ID that the poll worker mistakenly thought was not valid, would have been treated the same way, if he had make a big stink and tried forcibly to vote.

    1. Brian Leeper Avatar
      Brian Leeper

      “If the poll worker honestly though that voters were supposed to wear masks, what was he supposed to do when Schilling tried to force his way in?”

      There was the option of getting a clue. Effective people realize that sometimes they are operating with incorrect information, and take steps to remedy the situation.

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      I would have done the same and do. I take a mask and if someone says I need to wear it, i will, even if I think they may be wrong , don’t be an idiot and make a scene especially if dealing with a basic worker or volunteer.

      If you think something is wrong, seek out the person in charge and make your complaint. If that don’t work, go up the food chain.

      We have people running around these days LOOKING for trouble, looking to cause trouble, to make a scene.

      Got enough of that.

      Those folks were willing to take his ballot outside.

      He went there intending to cause a scene and really victimizing people who have given of their own time to man the polls.

    3. Brian Leeper Avatar
      Brian Leeper

      “If the poll worker honestly though that voters were supposed to wear masks, what was he supposed to do when Schilling tried to force his way in?”

      There was the option of getting a clue. Effective people realize that sometimes they are operating with incorrect information, and take steps to remedy the situation.

    4. WayneS Avatar

      “If the poll worker honestly though that voters were supposed to wear masks, what was he suppose to do when Schilling tried to force his way in?”

      I know one thing he should not have done, and that is lay hands on the guy (unless he was attacking someone else, of course). If he was being genuinely disruptive, then they should have called the cops and let them sort it out, but no one should have grabbed any part of his body.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        and I agree with that. Don’t give him a ballot and call the cops and go from there.

  6. tmtfairfax Avatar

    Where is the corporate and media outrage? An unauthorized voting restriction. They go crazy with the imposition of rules lawfully adopted and which have been validated by SCOTUS, e.g., voter ID; yet remain silent when voting officials ignore state rules and impose their own restrictions.

  7. James Kiser Avatar
    James Kiser

    ah voter hassling by the democrat communists of Dr Quack and party.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      assuming volunteer poll workers are commies?

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